Higher Education Branding: Five Questions to Answer Before You Start

Branding. It seems to be today’s ‘it’ word for higher education marketers. For most, it can be a confusing, scary and budget draining nightmare. For others, it may seem a gigantic waste of time. They both could be right if these five questions cannot easily be answered before beginning a branding project in higher education:

What scope are you talking about? Sometimes in higher education, confusion grows in the lack of clear definition across departments, divisions, schools and offices. What may be the key messaging behind a capital or enrollment campaign, may to others be viewed as a branding campaign. Add to this the separate campaigns created for key programs across campus (graduate programs, online programs, intercession programs) and it becomes even more confusing. Be sure you know that you are talking about the institution at the highest level, serving all divisions and to be integrated in key messaging in all communications.

Why is brand work the answer to your question? Brand work can be very powerful but is by no means a panacea. How do you know that this is what is needed to solve the business problem you are trying to solve? Is there another change that could be made that would have a stronger, direct effect on the issue – programming, pricing or the types of classes offered? Be sure that the brand is what needs work, not the offering.

If you are successful, what will the outcome be? As with all great marketing work, have measurable and time sensitive goals. To this end, know your starting baseline and how you want to influence it to your organizations benefit. How will your public relations, marketing, enrollment, retention, alumni relations, donations and staff/faculty recruiting goals be affected. Make sure you can measure the impact on all major areas.

Is everyone ready for the work that lies ahead? A brand campaign is only as good as the implementation and this relies very heavily on the entire institutional community. Knowing how to play politics goes a long way in ensuring that the work is not only authentic but also carried out by the major players. If certain groups on campus are unavailable due to conflicting project timelines and priorities, failure may be sure to follow.

How will this integrate with current/upcoming campaign work? Back to the confusion in higher education, which may have several competing campaigns going on at the same time. How will the overarching brand campaign (not implementing of logos/typography, but true brand messaging) affect admission campaigns, annual giving campaigns, etc? Knowing the cycle of these large, annual projects will help those planning a larger brand overhaul.

A true brand campaign is more than simply updating logos, imagery, stationary and a website. It is an educated study in the entirety of the complex business problems and audiences that an institution deals with, setting it up for success in the future. It can be quantified and should move the needle on perception in the general public eye as well. In the changing landscape and with the huge demographic shift, this is crucial for higher education.


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